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VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES | Community Discussion

Should Volunteering Be Mandatory?

March 31, 2001|KAREN KARLITZ

Every Venice High School student is required to perform 10 hours of community service a year in order to attend graduation ceremonies. A few schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District have a similar mandate. However, making community service a graduation requirement--just like taking a certain number of credits--has been a hot-button topic throughout the city.

KAREN KARLITZ spoke with the school's community service program administrator and a student.

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BETSY ALKALY

Community service program administrator, Venice High School

As part of its periodic accreditation process, each high school in California must develop a list of expected schoolwide learning results that covers every area in the curriculum. The community service requirement reflects agreed-upon values and goals at our school. Actually, a committee of students chose to require community service as one of Venice High's learning goals.

We view community service as excellent preparation for the future. Students can explore career options. For example, if someone is interested in becoming a teacher, he or she can do tutoring; if his or her interest is health care, working in a hospital would be beneficial.

Through their volunteer efforts, students often discover hidden talents, find new interests and develop such "soft skills" as dependability, responsibility, following directions and getting along with others. It allows them the opportunity to work with people from different backgrounds. It also helps students build their resumes, as many have not yet had paid employment, and it provides contacts for future jobs.

Some college scholarships are based totally or partially on community service and, of course, colleges always look at this segment of a student's application.

Students do a wide range of things. Some work at one particular agency on a regular basis. They might do tutoring or recreational work at the Boys and Girls Club or at an elementary school. Others seek one-shot events, like a walk/run fund-raiser, clean-the-beach day or assisting at a neighborhood carnival.

Relatively few students miss graduation ceremonies because they didn't fulfill this obligation. In any given year, the most who were ineligible to attend was about 20 out of 425. And in last year's senior class, 35 students were recognized at our awards assembly for performing more than 100 hours of volunteer work and 70 to 80 other students accrued between 40 and 100 hours.

Overall, the idea behind the program is to involve our students in the community. Venice is a unique area and has a long history of activism. And while Venice High is a magnet school and the students can do their service wherever it is convenient, many work right here in the neighborhood.

There is some resistance to the program. Some students see it as a chore, but many others get very involved and it becomes a significant part of their lives.

Is it contradictory to make volunteer work mandatory? I understand the notion that it is a contradiction in terms, but sometimes as educators we have to require students to do things they should do voluntarily. And in this instance, it's something that is good for the students, good for the community and good for our school.

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JENNIE CHOI

18, senior, Venice High School

Community service is a good thing, a great thing actually. And it's also a great thing that Venice High School encourages students to participate in community service, but it should not be mandatory.

School is not meant for community service. A student with high achievements in class and excellent grades should not be denied the privilege of participating in the graduation ceremony just because he or she didn't finish serving the hours required.

At our age, teens have other priorities. They probably shouldn't be more important than helping others, but often they are. We teens shouldn't be punished for being teens. We have so many things to worry about and so many of us feel stressed and feel that we are the ones who need help.

High school should prepare us for the future and, honestly, I don't think community service is a necessity to survive in the real world.

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